What is the correct version of the French language and how to learn it?




Hello David,

I have a question for you. Since I was born half French and Irish, have been trying to find the right course to take on learning authentic French. I am very confused on this. My Mother was born and raised in New Brunswick, Canada, and we learned Quebec french in school, by the time I reached high school and college Quebec french was all we were taught. However, I have been told by several French people from Europe that if you speak Quebec french to a Parisien this is insulting French. I love my heritage of being French and have always loved listening to French being spoken but I want to have the correct one to learn as my kids want to go to France and Paris, and I don’t want to have them learn the wrong one as we are learning about the cultures and how to get along with people there before we go and do not want to make ourselves look foolish by speaking the wrong version of French while we are there. Got any helpful suggestions?

(asked by Michelle from Canada)

 

Hello Michelle and thanks for your question.

I have to say that I’m a bit confused by the first part. You’re saying that you’re half-French, but that your mom was from New Brunswick. Doesn’t this make you half-Canadian? Or fully Canadian if you’re a citizen?
I know that some North Americans like to say that they’re so many percent from this country or that nationality, but truth is that having ancestors from one given country doesn’t make you a national from that country. In my opinion, you’re the culture you grew up in, not whatever percentage of whatever nation your genes say that you are. (more on this in a future post actually, as I recently received a question about this very issue). And for example, French speaking Canadians are not French, they’re Canadians, the same way that English speaking Canadians are not English, etc.

So, it’s important to not be confused by that. In your question you mention “French people from Europe”. It’s an unusual way to talk about French nationals from the métropole, but it’s not inaccurate. Just keep in mind that non-European French people are not from Canada, but from the Caribbean, Guyane, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. 🙂

Now, with that being said, let’s dive into the main part of your question.

 

Where and how can one learn authentic French?

 

Well, it’s possible to do it anywhere really. What you need is a teacher that is native… Actually, not even…

What you need is learning the language in a communicative way, and that’s mostly it.

See, I’m an English teacher, I’m not a native speaker and yet, I think that I teach authentic English.

Why? Because, my teaching methods are based on what we call the communicative approach. In short, I teach how to use the language, I don’t teach the language in a bubble.

 

So to learn authentic French all you need is a real teacher (one cannot improvise themselves “language teacher” just because they’re a native speaker),  and if possible one using a communicative approach. As it has become the standard way of teaching foreign languages nowadays, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Beyond that, everything else is ornamentation.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. If you want to reach a certain level of fluency or even become bilingual, it doesn’t matter how good the classes, it doesn’t matter how many lesson hours you take, a teacher will never be enough.
You will need to spend an exten­sive amount of time surrounded by the language and using it.

That is, watching hours and hours of videos in French, read pages and pages of written French and ideally spend a few years in a French speaking area.

Where?

It doesn’t matter the least as long as the people are native speakers.

So what about this whole thing about insulting French if you don’t speak Parisian French?

My answer to that is calling BS.

First you can’t insult a language. You can insult people but not a language. A language has no feelings.

 

Will you insult anyone if you speak French with a Canadian accent? Ask yourself the question, are foreigners insulting you when they speak English with an accent?
Are British people insulting North Americans with their linguistic differences? And vice-versa?

Honestly if you ever meet a French person who feels insulted by your Québécois French, screw them. Screw them hard. (Excuse my French) Mock them. Publicly. They deserve it.

Now, it is true that for some reason – I blame the fact that France is a heavily centralized country as well as the existence of the French Academy (which is not as relevant as some people think it is – hint: it’s not) – there is a belief among certain people that there is one unique real authentic and legitimate French language.

That is complete and utter nonsense.

This thought finds its roots in things such as centralization (that I just mentioned), also in colonization, imperialism and similar niceties.

It also has strong links with the (mostly successful) attempts in the 19th and early 20th Centuries to eradicate regional languages on the French territory. And when that happened, it was mostly Parisian French that was imposed on the rest of France and its colonies.

However, once French became the native language of pretty much everyone in the country, every regional difference became authentic (because they returned, quickly – well, they never really left).

And despite what some conservative (Parisian?) bourgeois parts of the population may think, there isn’t one authentic French, but many, and there hasn’t been one since the day the French language left its native area (somewhere North of Paris – more or less Picardie), a thousand or so years ago. So if you want a real genuine, authentic and original French, it’s probably the Picard one… Which would be a shame, the Picard accent can be painful to listen when it’s a bit strong (please, Picard people reading this, don’t hate me for this statement, I’m sure other French accents have the same effect on you).

Seriously and once again, saying that there is one single authentic French is similar to saying that there is one single authentic English, or one single and authentic any other language for that matter.

That’s linguistically wrong, inaccurate and nonsensical, as well as being insulting for every native speaker who doesn’t speak that shade of the language.

So, learn French, the way you want, or the one you can, with the best teacher that’s available near you, regardless or where they’re from, and do not bother yourself with such silliness of correct and incorrect versions of the French language.

 

 


About David Billa

David was born and raised in the French South West. After a few years in the US and a few more in Paris, he finally settled down in Japan. He blogs here about his various experiences and travels, with an emphasis on his home country, France.


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3 thoughts on “What is the correct version of the French language and how to learn it?

  • Marilu

    Hi David, I saw you posted this and I am so glad I clicked to read it. I have to say I’ve been a long-time lurker/reader, but I didn’t think about actually commenting until now.

    Anyhow, I think what you wrote is applicable to any language that is spoken in multiple areas of the world. I also have to say that I’m with you completely about your nationality being what you’re raised as rather than where your family comes from. I think ultimately family, and overall their descent, can influence how you identify yourself, but when you sit down and really think about your traditions, you’ll find there’s one that you relate to more and usually it’s where you were born (sometimes though, it can be where you have lived longest, which isn’t necessarily where you were born).

    That aside, if anyone wants to poke fun at someone else’s language skills over an accent or heck, regionalisms, then they have never stepped outside of their bubble, traveled, and gotten to know other people (and that’s just a darn shame). Whether it be French, English, or some other language, having those accents or regionalisms just means you have experience seeing how others learned (yourself included). To add, even a native speaker of a language can mess up somewhere else that speaks the language, but it doesn’t make it any less right or wrong. Think in English. Americans say bathroom, but when will you hear lavatory? In the UK, that’s where! And if you want to think French (and for those reading other than David who knows me personally, I’m not a native French speaker), all I can say is I had an incident years ago at work over how to introduce Gerber (the baby compote company) to certain French-speaking regions as some kept going on how the name itself was distasteful because many literally thought of its literal translation: to puke.

    I guess my point overall is simply: just go out there and speak, OP. Don’t be afraid. Most people don’t care at all where you learned a language, and if it’s honestly something important, someone will inform you about another way of saying something. Oh, and I hope this makes sense. I am wordy, tired, and possibly lacking coherence. Good night and wish everyone well.

  • michelle perry

    Thank you David, that explains a lot to me. People can be a royal pain in the butt with all thier garbage they have fed me on this subject. they think because My mom is French from New Brunswick she is only half canadian, but now I see they are wrong because she was born and raised in canada all her life and yes she born down there but never learned it at all yet she understood french quite clearly when it was spoken and because people say Quebec people don’t speak the same french as her family did down there in New Brunswick hers was fake and would insult anyone in Paris France. what a load of garbage I was fed. thanks for helping me out with it I appreciate it so much. yeahhhhhhhhh now I can go learn French the way I want to.